Socorro Senior Center. 1410 Ake Avenue

The financial conundrum of maintaining services for the seniors of Socorro County hasn’t gone away, but the county commission is resolved to keep them open and operating through June. At its Dec. 13 meeting, the Socorro County Board of County Commissioners voted to take $450,000 from the general fund to keep the state-mandated senior program functioning as normal for the next six months.

According to County Manager Michael Hawkes, the move will continue to cause financial problems for other county departments.

“The county’s budget takes about a half-million-dollar hit again, which cuts into the budgets of other departments,” Hawkes said. “When we lose employees in different departments, those funds are utilized for the senior center program with the result being that some employee positions aren’t replaced and/or equipment is not replaced.”

He points to the county’s road department as an example.

“There’s a direct correlation between spending more money supporting the senior program to people leaving the road department through attrition. That money was utilized to support the senior program, instead of replenishing personnel and equipment. And this is while we are attempting to address the 1,420 miles of roads that we’re supposed to maintain each year.”

Other county-mandated services could conceivably come up with shortfalls and be a drain on other departments, county-wide.

Hawkes said the senior program’s shortfall had nothing to do with how the county’s money is allocated.

“They came down, reviewed all of our books and they found no mismanagement, no cost-overruns,” Hawkes said. “This is not just an anomaly for Socorro County. There are counties and cities and municipalities having the exact same problem. Our representatives and senators are keenly aware of it because every time I meet with them, I let them know. There have been promises but I haven’t seen anything coming from anybody.

“This has been going on for years,” Hawkes said. “It’s nothing new.”

What’s ‘new’ is the skyrocketing cost of food and fuel, as well as supply chain issues.

“We used to get a dozen eggs for $2. It’s $6.50 now,” he said. “And now you can’t even get lettuce. Lettuce used to be a crate for $18. Now that same crate is $180. This means we can’t offer salad. We can’t afford it.”

That’s on top of supply chain issues.

“You order a truckload of food and they roll up with a quarter amount of food you’ve ordered,” he said. “Our supplier has supply chain issues of their own. Look at broccoli. Broccoli stems are what we get. That’s what they are getting.”

Hawkes and the commissioners are hoping the governor and state lawmakers will help the county find a solution in the coming legislative session.

“That means funding. It’s a state program that the state doesn’t adequately provide money for,” he said. “So, from now through June 30 the senior program will be financed by the county—with hopes that the state and the governor will fund the senior programs appropriately.”

This brings a sigh of relief to Senior Center Director Salina Lopez.

“The extended funding means our county manager and our county commissioners are committed to our local seniors,” Lopez said. “And they are ensuring seniors continue to receive the much-needed services our centers provide.”

At the Dec. 13 meeting, Lopez presented the results of a questionnaire filled out by seniors who use the program.

Responders generally rated the food served at meals as fair-to-good, while giving higher marks for personnel and service.

“Concerning the questionnaire responses we received, our seniors have spoken, and we are listening,” she said. “We are working on implementing many changes to our menus, the quality and quantity of our meals will be improving.”

In addition, all three centers – Socorro, Magdalena and Veguita – are requesting ICIP funding for surveillance systems, carports and range hoods to be considered during the 60-day session for New Mexico’s 56th Legislature. The opening gavel is on Jan. 17 at noon.